Another movie: Silk Road

Silk Road is a fairly new movie released back in February to overall lukewarm reviews.

It tries to tell the story of a fellow named Ross Ulbricht, who was the mastermind behind the darknet site Silk Road. Silk Road was a website that dealt with selling drugs, and was a story that had potential. But in the end the film was pretty boring.

The principal medium in this movie is the computer, in the sense that the subject of the story, Silk Road, was a website which exchaged illegal drugs for bitcoin, that could only be accessed with a Tor browser. So it is not an action movie by any stretch. Lots of focusing on the website, and the fact that it specialized in selling illegal drugs with bitcoin. Also, much was made of Ulbricht’s ideological musings, that he fancied himself to be the world’s saviour. This is all fine. The internet and the computer field is full of people professing to be people’s saviours, to varying degrees of legitimacy, ranging from Bill Gates, to Richard Stallman.

Alexandra Shipp, who plays Julia; and Nick Robinson, who plays Ross Ulbricht.

The medium of film does a better job focusing on people than on websites and the exchange of contraband for bitcoin. There are only so many screenshots, and so many US Post delivery trucks that you can film that would get the point across. Ulbricht seems to come across as a bit of a self-absorbed dick, but you kind of expect that from someone who thinks he can dance between the raindrops of the internet underworld without getting wet. We are never allowed to see deeper into Ulbricht than that; we don’t seem to be allowed to see much insight into his relationship with Julia Vie to feel any tension or for that matter much depth of emotion for either party after their relationship falls apart. But when she told him to leave, you got the feeling he had it coming for some time.

The entire movie seems to be similarly lacking in depth. Officer Rick Bowden, a creation of the movie writers to create a tension between old-school and new, begins to get caught up investigating the massive narcotics trafficking scheme that is Silk Road. He is portrayed as a narcotics officer out of rehab who had been reassigned to cybercrime.

Officer Rick Bowden, played by actor Jason Clarke

While the movie was factual, Bowden was intended to be an amalgamation of two or more officers, who ended up with 6 years in jail for their dealings on Silk Road. Ulricht himself was given a life imprisonment without parole, which bears out in news accounts.

The movie made few attempts to make a case why I should care about Ulricht, the mastermind behind Silk Road – beyond Ulricht’s wide-eyed youthful naivete; few attempts to give us reason to care about officer Rick’s street smarts or to give us any sense that any of the characters had any appreciation of him by the end. That fell flat too. In fact, we are mostly only allowed to see his more buffoonish side as a cop, leaving us to think that his abilities as a Narc were no better than his abilities as an internet sleuth. Also, there was not enough depth given to the Dark Web or Tor browsers or encryption technology or Bitcoin, to give the film any “Geek cred”, so it fell flat there also. It is a wishy-washy film that appears to alienate every demographic equally.

Silk Road is never outright tasteless; and the story is not too hard to follow. You are guaranteed to never be at the edge of your seat for any reason. If you want an afternoon or evening of feeling comfortably numb with a fairly easy-to-follow story, you’ve come to the right place. If you were looking for a thrilling movie that would make you think about the complex issues of cybercrime, or that would challenge Ulbricht’s twisted libertarian beliefs that ultimately put him behind bars … this isn’t it. I would give it two stars out of five.

Casablanca: Just a bunch of cliches strung together!

Casablanca

The 1942 film Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman had it all: shady deals and intrigue in the middle of World War II, a love triangle, and great writing and acting. The title of this blog reflects the fact that this film, among the greatest of all time by many accounts, is the source of cliches and taglines that are so well-known to us, that many of us 79 years later don’t realize that the source of those phrases came from this movie, often delivered by Bogart, playing the part of Rick Blaine, a self-described saloon-owner in Casablanca, in what used to be French Morcco on the north coast of Africa.

Of course, there was Bogart’s trenchocat and fedora, a look so imiated over the decades that it has become a visual cliche, which he wore during certain scenes. There are also the lines of which I was able to identify five:

  • “Play it, Sam!”, a line delivered by Bergman (who plays Ilsa Lund) and later, separately by Bogart, asking a saloon piano player named Sam to play a tune that reminded them of Rick and Ilsa’s old romance. In popular culture, this line appears to have morphed into “Play it again, Sam!”
  • “Here’s looking at you, kid”, an affectionate phrase said several times by Rick to Ilsa during the film. I counted four times, but I may have missed some.
  • “I am shocked, shocked!” when Captain Louis Renault “finds” to his “shock” that gambling was happening at Rick’s saloon, after he himself had gambled there and pocketed his winnings. This has since become the catchphrase of any hypocrite who has benefitted from some kind of shenanigans, and then afterward trying to express revulsion of the very idea of the act when others are doing the same thing.
  • “Round up the usual suspects!”, a line said by officer Renault on the last scene at the airport after he made a deal with Rick.
  • “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”, a line delivered by Rick to officer Renault at the end of the movie.

Games that suck I: Galaxy Attack

Other games that suck (for other articles):

  • Based on bullshit ads: Cash Frenzy, Lotsa Slots, Blackjack/21
  • Games that you crave to lose just to see how the main character reacts: Fishdom, Homescapes, Gardenscapes
  • Games that give you the creeps
    • There is a game where you are a main character, an adult female, who sees an orphaned child, and you take her home. She is grateful. But then when you choose a bed you give her a rickety bunkbed. Then you design her walls is this Salem-style spooky wallpaper. That little girl is forming an opinion of you right now, and bawls her eyes out, and wants nothing to do with you. The ad ends, and the mother smiles with her paint roller. The viewer knows now that the stepmother has no soul. Sick, creepy shit.
    • Then there are a number of games based on a husband cheating on their wife, and their wife, choosing between divorce or a threesome, chooses divorce. She takes her worldly belongings — looks like it all fits in a single small suitcase — to her new home, a crappy, busted-out place that is badly in need of fixing. According to the demo, she takes a hammer to a leaking toilet, with obvious results. Demo ends. Can you help? Please download, and give them your money.
    • There are a number of game adverts with disembodied female hands. I get it. That hand is in place of yours; moving objects around and making game moves. I don’t know. I just have a below-average interest in games that are demoed by zombies.
    • Games like Wooden, Tile Connect, and their ilk also make false claims to know what your IQ is, and that by spelling “CAT” using tiles boosts your IQ by 5 points. Having tried games like these, I notice that you have to go through a lot of levels before the game gets mildly interesting, unless you are in Grade 6 and want to expand your vocabulary. I have tried the free versuions of some of these games, and they look absolutely nothing like in the advertising.
  • Games that are promoted using testimonials. If they have to drag in a guy or a gal to tell you the game is fun, then it’s a safe bet that it isn’t worth it. If they tell you they are earning large amounts of money and that this can help them pay their debts, it is also a ripoff, and I just wonder how they are allowed to even make advertisements with these obviously false claims.
Galaxy Attack: Alien Shooter free Hack, Mod, Android & iOS ...

About a month ago, I was bored and had little use for this iPad I own. So, I downloaded a “free” game, Galaxy Attack, a Galaga-style game that isn’t bad, except for two things: 1) the ads are tasteless and barely legal, covering the gamut between false advertising to advertising games featuring gratuitous and utterly senseless violence; and 2) if you make an in-app purchase in an effort “disable ads”, it doesn’t actually disable the ads.

Also, the function of various stars, tickets, badges, things that look like puzzle pieces is vague, and there are too many different kinds of these gimmyhoos to keep track of. Researching online or asking gamers in the chat room supported by the game often don’t yield answers. Oh, and most of those cost money. It is very easy to spend money on this game and spend more than you planned. And then the spending begets more spending until one day you have to just uninstall it. Over a month, you can spend over $300 on ship upgrades. What happens a lot is that after you lose a battle, a dialogue is shoved in front of you asking you to buy something that would improve your playing. It is an impulse buying decision I normally resist, and what they expect you to fork out on impulse is often something north of $50.00 at one go. I was in need of “drone tickets” one time to upgrade a drone, for example, and over a day and a half, I was dogged by this dialogue to spend $30 to buy 50 drone tickets because they were on sale.

Things of “value” in this game certainly are drone tickets; but so are crystals, coins, and those “stones” associated with each of the ten ships that can’t seem to be bought at any price. That appears to be because they want you to purchase the ships outright, and so the jewels are only obtained on rare occasions, and can be for any one of the ten ships. Since you need about 75 or 80 of one of these jewels to upgrade or obtain any one of the ships, getting them for free can be a waiting game. The most powerful ship, called “Legendary”, cost $139.

So, every time I see an opponent on a player-to-player playing mode with a ship more souped up than mine, or a more powerful one, I now entertain one of two possibilities: 1) this guy/gal spent a lot of money buying his/her way into a powerful ship; or 2) this guy/gal plays way too much Galaxy Attack and should get a life. If you insist on playing this game, don’t ever entertain the ambition that you want to be the top player. This is because the top player is either very poor by now, or unemployed and still living with their mother. Just don’t get too ambitious and revel in being your own humble, mediocre self.

While you are quarantining and social distancing …

Sir Isaac Newton, along with some personal notes written in Greek.

Other, greater people have done great things in quarantine way before you were born. I already knew that the late Sir Isaac Newton discovered things like optics, gravity, and the rules for Calculus. But what I didn’t know is that in the two years he did so, he was in his early 20’s, and England suffered an epidemic of The Bubonic Plague, known as The Great Plague, in the years 1665-1666, long before infectious disease were known and understood.

Prior to that he was thought of as an unremarkable undergraduate student, according to Wikipedia. But given two years cooped up where he lived and avoiding the Plague gave him time alone to come up with his brilliant theories on classical mechanics, using calculus to explain it mathematically.

Post-mortem review of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017)

I have fairly strong opinions about movies, and watch them only seldom. I call this review “post-mortem” because this review is occuring 3 years after any discussion about it is topical, and most people have stated their opinion about it. I also don’t review movies much, but this one gave me the need to voice some strong opinions about it.

I did not see the first Guardians movie, so my opinions regard the movie upon its own merit. The movie was cringeworthy with very lazy writing. Punchlines that have been pulled from every sitcom I remember seeing; scenes devolving into a group therapy session without any real character development beforehand that would give much of this context outside of the constantly snarky remarks the “Guardians” make about each other throughout the movie. The sarcasm the characters hurl at each other and the “breakthroughs” they have ask the audience to apparently accept this as character depth. It just results in being cringeworthy. I think this would have been a better movie if the Guardians just learned how to shut up and fight crime — or aliens — or whatever it is they are fighting.

Also, maybe it’s because I missed the first part, but I don’t see any other purpose to using seventies’ music throughout the film than to ingratiate the audience to its substandard plot. As a really good fan of seventies music (much of the music they use are actually in my record collection), I found its use here nakedly manipulative, and not really appropriate for an outer space film. No matter how it is justified, hearing Fleetwood Mac in the middle of a space scene is too jarring to be convincing. Or hearing a godlike character named Ego, a planet creator, explain in detail the lyrics to “Brandy You’re a Fine Girl” to his son — lyrics, by the way, that need very little explanation. I think the audience gets it.

What I was looking for, I suppose, was an escape into a movie. Just get absorbed in it. But hearing the music on offer, hearing the constant and often annoying banter, just kept reminding me that this movie is all fake, and don’t get too lost in their world. A movie’s “job”, especially one that is based on fantasy, is to sell me on their world, entice me to accept their world so I too can travel with them in my imagination. Instead, it veers between devolving into a sitcom with tired and overused punch lines, and devolving into a group therapy session, with the most unconvincing breakthroughs in the history of therapeutic breakthroughs. The villains are just “kind of there”, with no character development or even story development on that side either.

There was another thing about this movie that got me as well. Because the writing was so flat and the punchlines so worn, it would likely appeal to a younger audience who may think the punchlines are new to them. Like kids under 15. Certainly, they would be blown away by the high action and visual effects. But there is a problem. There are a lot of sexual jokes in the film where I could see parents having problems with. So, it may not work for them either.

So, anything good about it, apart from the lazy writing, and music that you can find blaring in any shopping mall, flat characters and flat villans, you ask? I think people have considered it successful due to the visual effects, the cameo of Sylvester Stallone, and oh yeah, they think Baby Groot looks cute. Most reviews of this movie were positive, but when I found a negative review, they seemed to find similar issues. There are others who say it’s “not as good as the first movie”, but I wish to avoid comparison to sequels. I am refusing to fall into the trap of desiring to purchase the first DVD in the series to “appreciate” the second one. That spells “ripoff” to me. Movies should stand on their own.

Guardians 3 is scheduled to be released next year. I don’t think I will be going anywhere near it.

Fake Book Titles V: Self-Help for the Online World

Yes, there are so many book titles for people on the internet and social media that it has its own entry, separate from the plain “self-help” category.

Found on laughingsquid.com

Trolling is part of “The Big Book of Online” series, of which this entry has various selections. Trolls are defined as persons or bots who post messages which is designed to inflame and incite to online chat groups, be it Twitter, Facebook, 4Chan, Reddit, or any other online chatroom.

I will give you one bit of advice that will save you from having to read this book: Don’t feed the trolls!

Trolls are looking for an audience and prey on anyone with weaknesses and insecurities. They also crave attention to themselves. Don’t give them that attention. Don’t respond to or even refer to their messages. If your chatroom doesn’t have a way to hide messages that you find disturbing, find another chatroom that does. If others are piling on to give reactions the trolls probably deserve, ignore them also, and find non-toxic online places to have the discussions you were hoping to have.

Found on sadanduseless.com

Because if you do, the troll could just dismiss you and other responders as Haters. The idea is to keep everyone upset and attentive to the troll and their ignorant remarks.

The troll then acts as if he or she is entirely unable to allow him or herself to be confused by facts or reason. This might be an act, or this might actually be the case. Either way, the participants slowly realize their time has been wasted and they move on.

That is, until another time when the same troll posts in the same discussion group about something else they know will upset other people. Other kinds of trolls are featured in the following books:

From somethingawful.com

Honey Bunch is a children’s book written to tell a cautionary tale about a little girl who finds her favourite song online and decides to download it. But really, the book is just another annoying extension of the “children are digital natives” trope that contains the myth that small children understand the complexities of what could be going on, on the other end of the internet connection. No. What they understand is: “I like this song and I know I can click on this link to get it.” There are many reasons to not click on that link, which go beyond “the law”. It is possible that she could be downloading a Trojan, or that she is on a website where each keystroke she makes is being logged in a phishing expedition on the part of the website. A small child doesn’t understand the forces at work that causes such corrupt websites to exist, simply because small children do not understand that there are people in the world that can be evil and hurtful; and that small children provide just that infinite amount of trust in the adult world that online predators crave. And I wasn’t even talking about sexual predators. They are open and accepting of what the online world is, but that is why I would say they should not be exposed to the internet until they are past a certain age.

Small children, contrary to online marketing bullshit, do not understand the online world, primarily because they are too naive to understand the world in its real form either. They are just curious little monkeys who click on stuff to see what happens. And they have more spare time than you to do it with. And yes, along the way, they click on stuff that isn’t a web browser, and now they know how to send an email containing daddy’s browsing history to every email address in daddy’s entire address book through Microsoft Office’s Mail Merge, because of what they saw on a YouTube video they randomly clicked on. The irony is that you were trying for weeks to do this with a business letter you were going to send out to a few dozen recipients as part of your job, and couldn’t figure it out. Great job, Honey Bunch!

The Man Who Walked Away From Facebook appears to be a story about a cowboy with a Facebook account. It is another cautionary tale about not letting online distractions keep your attention away from your horse. I think.

Fake Book Titles IV: Everyday Dramas

Apparently, this website has turned making fake book covers into something of a cottage industry. This is a bit of a trend, following the fake book titles meme. I think the art is in the ingenuity of the ‘shop job. Changing letters behind the cracks and dog-ears in the book cover is an art form I have respect for.

The Connor Brothers have offered a fake title that is not really that far removed from the original title.

It is basically the kind of modern translation you kind of wished you found in the Coles’ “Everyday English” Shakespeare series. That would have had me even more hooked on literature back in university.

There are certain scenes in this play (the real one, by William Shakespeare) where profanity would have worked, such as when characters about to marry are dancing with each other while hiding their identities by wearing masks. While dancing they begin to talk smack about other people, but actually have no idea they are talking smack about each other, and hearing about themselves in the third person, unknowingly spoken to them directly. Comedy gold.

You’ve Won a Free Timeshare Vacation, for years, has been the quintessential telemarketing con. Darryl Dawkins, former NBA star, dabbled in pulp fiction after his carrer as a basketball icon, offering this book, published by Fuxley Books.

This is the drama of a couple in Ajax receiving a phonecall from a telemarketer about winning a raffle to win their own timeshare in The Bahamas. It sounded absolutely unbelievable.

This novel is the prequel to the next novel, Timeshare Exit, where the same protagonists get another telemarketer phonecall offering to get out of their timeshare for a “small upfront fee” of $11,000.

Women have their way of knowing how she measures up in her marriage, such as seeing how she competes with a game on TV. From the point of view of the husband, it’s lousy timing. From the wife’s point of view, it is perfect timing.

Since the publication of this book, she might have to compete with The Playboy Channel, or something similar. Her only advantage in that case, is to remind her husband that he can’t marry the Playboy Channel.

The Most Glorious Bowel Movement, is a pulp fiction page turner if there ever was one. Goliath Dumper’s artistic challenge here is to get his character to describe the bowel movement in a way that would hold the reader’s attention for 198 pages. We get the story from the wife’s point of view. What she was doing before, during and after; what it felt like before and after in intricate detail that illustrates the slow start, the buildup and the climax.

Spanky McFarland has embarked on writing a Fanfiction novel based on Dumper’s obvious million-selling pulp classic. These are the in fact the four words you don’t want to hear from an attractive woman if you were ever “in the mood” at the time.

I didn’t want this post to deteriorate into “potty humor” but I had these two in stock, and thought they should go together.

Now, where were we …? Oh yeah, this was supposed to be a post of “everyday dramas” in fake book titles.

Oh, for Fuck’s Sake, What Have You Done Now? could also have been called “Smooth Moves” but illustrate the hell of children dealing with a collapsing treehouse.

You have to read the book to know why the tree was made to collapse. Shoddy workmanship? Too many people sitting on one side? Using too much hay on the roof and walls? Why is the little girl licking her hand as she is crawling away from the disaster? What was the guy in the background doing that caused him to helplessly fall out and faceplant himself on the ground? Will he ever get up?

Handicapped Parking Posse is the story about a librarian named Annie who really takes handicapped parking enforcement to heart.

If an able-bodied patron so much as thought of parking in the handicapped parking spot, then a pissed-off librarian and her Second Amendment rights would be there to greet them with a loaded .22 calibre rifle. All the patron would have to do is look down where he is standing, at the blood stains on the pavement from previous patrons who thought she was neither serious, nor a good shooter. But Annie is not a bloodthirsty killer. She doesn’t shoot to kill. She just shoots to disable. Once shot, you were allowed to take the disabled parking spot and drag your bloodied body into the library and make yourself comfortable. Sit on one of their bloodstained chairs; borrow a bloodstained book; or just ask Annie to phone you an ambulance.

Fake Book Titles III: Self-Help Suggestions

Boredpanda.com discusses a bunch of actual fake covers you can use to cover your boring copy of Plato’s Republic or Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. Many of these titles are in the self-help genre, and are sure to attract attention.

Passengers all moved away from this person when they saw the cover.

For example, why publically show your preference for Tess of the D’ubervilles, or War and Peace, when you can show off your interest in Hiding Your Erection from God? Covers like these have been shown to give you much more room on that rush hour subway ride, according to studies.

Boredpanda.com also had many titles below, that are too long, and don’t appear to satirize any existing covers. Some examples are below:

The self-help genre is a deep well, with titles that speak deeply about human angst and ennui. Harrowing tales! Horror! Suspicion! And who can resist a book describing in scientific detail a video about a puppy with the hiccups (the video in this link has 18 million views, but this one is closer to 7 minutes)?

Boris wants to mess with your coiff’. BTW, his hair is not this nice in real life.

And in case you need to know How to be Incompetent from the experts, here is a easy to read book with a very familiar British Prime Minister on the cover for those needing a mentor by which they can model their incompetent behaviour.

You get to learn the meaning of big words like anosognosia. While that word has medical connotations, the generally incompetent can interpret it in the sense of “not knowing that you don’t know”. That is, you are actually incompetent, yet not aware that you are incompetent. This is not to be confused with denial. Oh no, my dear reader! This is just incompetence raised to a new dimension: you are too incompetent to know that you are incompetent. It would be as if Boris Johnson styled his own hair, and was so impressed with the results that he opened a salon, charging top dollar.

Of course, we don’t want to give Donald Trump short shrift here, so we have two books which are the most likely titles to not have been ghostwritten by someone else with his name on the cover. And because they are likely to have been written by Trump, both books are 50 pages, tops! Free copies will distributed in the Trump hotel rooms alongside the Gideons’ Bible.

These are parodies of covers of classic titles put out by Penguin Books. In a sudden fit of “FTFY“, I see its category is “Mystery and Crime”. But really, I’ve Seen the Future: I Can’t Afford It should be “self-help”, as we all like to know how to cope.

But also another possibility is that it is part of a futuristic dystopia, which makes it, maybe science fiction or fantasy. But I do prefer to think of this as self-help. What are the choices we have as a species going into a future we can’t afford? The scary part is that it may involve sharing resources, rent, food and generally getting along together. It potentially could be a subversive book in today’s neocon climate.

The Weirdo Always Sits Next To Me is a classic problem plaguing certain passengers using public transit. Now, I know about all of the talk that we can all be a little, shall we say, “different”, and some of us dye our hair strange colors, wear strange clothes, makeup and tattoos. Maybe some of us have strange piercings or whatnot. But that is a normal weird. All that is is “different”, really.

What I have in mind is more of the kind of weirdo that comes on the bus, pays his fare, and on his head is a paper hat which has printed on it what he feels to be “The Seven Commandments“. He wears a shirt made of newspaper whose characters are in Hebrew, and clutches in both hands inkjet-printed and hand-folded pamphlets describing the end of the world. And he thinks to himself, ‘you seem like a nice person to sit next to’, and he does, uninvited. His smell is a mixture of schnapps and body odour, and you can’t figure out if there is something crawling under his beard. You begin to itch. You try to stare out the window. It will be a long bus ride. And it happens the next day and the next.

And this makes the book the basis for self-help. You begin to wonder what the hell is it about you that attracts weirdos on the bus? What signals do you give off that make you a choice for weirdos to sit next to? Is the character in this anecdote the only one that attracts weirdos? What scientific studies discussing what proportion of the population attract weirdos on public transit? Are certain personality types more likely to attract weirdos on the bus than others? Should you seek help? Is there a remedy? Are weirdos contagious? So many questions.

The last title in this article is what we all feel. Let’s face it. Youth, with all of its brash confidence, bravado, and disrespect for authority, is wasted on the young, since it lacks worldly wisdom. A title such as this one really sums up what any self-help book ever written has ever been about. And that is, when you combine your wisdom with confidence, you become a tour de force. But the perennial problem has nearly always been that we usually have way more of one than the other. It is one of the paradoxes of a life lived: You can only gain wisdom by making mistakes and learning from them — that is, you gain wisdom by having previously failed at something. But failing at something saps confidence and your motivation decreases. To regain our confidence and motivation is a purely psychological effort, and a difficult one for us as we get older. The humbling feeling we get by making mistakes should not be mistaken for a “reason” to lose confidence in ourselves, since no reason exists or can exist. There is only learning, and with learning there can only be future success, but that means we need to keep trying. This particular book doesn’t exist, but if it did, I just saved you the trouble of having to buy it. You’re welcome.

Fake Book Titles II: Personal Tragedies

By now you may have read the first installment of Fake Book Titles, and the rationale for this simple concept. Show fake book title, write highly plausible nonsense about it.

Toaster Oven Inferno is the kind of drama that should be written into a book. It begins with optimism, a promise of convenience, all ruined by a single burrito. And out of the flames runs a housewife wearing tattered garments as if she had barely escaped a grizzly bear attack, barely surviving the inferno, not knowing where the kids are, and wondering what his husband would say when he came home from work.

No information on the originator of this graphic.

Mummy’s Breaking Point is not a property of mothers, but of parents generally. Here a bunch of small kids decide to form an indie marching band. The book proves that insanity is hereditary: you get it from your children.

It was reported that they had to take mummy away that week, leaving Dad to do the housework and tend to 7 little terrors who appear to have boundless energy and below average music skills.

Wait for the sequel, Daddy’s Breaking Point, starring Daddy as a new mental hospital inmate, sharing a room with co-star Mommy. Supporting cast include the Children’s Aid Society.

This is Sam. Sam he is. The title of this book should be considered to be a natural reaction to being served green eggs and ham.

Either of You Boys Want a Coke? I don’t recognize the series this book originates from; it isn’t Hardy Boys, but it is kind of like Hardy Boys in that there are two teen-age dudes that are depicted on the cover.

Apparently, they don’t mind being tied up in the basement and only feel thirsty.

This next tome has a cover depicting a space mission, but not any actual one, since the space capsule appears to contain only one astronaut.

So, some kid who always dreamed of space travel steals the keys to a rocketship, and after entering space and the third stage of the rocket disappears into zero gravity, he now contemplates the consequences of his actions. What now? His boy scout magnetic compass is no good to him anymore as he sees the beach ball of Earth shrink away from him to the size of a quarter. He doesn’t know how to control the oxygen or navigate the ship, and it is getting harder to breathe. It dawns on him that space travel is more complicated than he remembered seeing it on TV. He never thought he would actually look forward to being grounded when he gets back home.

Fake Book Titles: Classic Rock Legends

The old books your parents or grandparents kept have been repurposed, with humourous effect. About a year ago, I had been tracking these on Pinterest, but I understand some fake titles have been mentioned on The Chive as far back as 2016. On a recent search, it appears as though the titles have proliferated and have become viral in their own way.

There are so many out there, that they are no longer confined to the now-commonplace parodies of pulp fiction covers. These have now expanded to nearly every kind of book.

I would like to say in advance that the stories relating the cover to something “real” in the lives of the subjects of the titles are totally made up. Highly plausible bullshit, if you will.

Stories about Kenny Loggins

Stories About Kenny Loggins Obviously this artist’s rendition was drawn long before Kenny’s foray into blockbuster movie-themed 80’s rock. He was, at one time, more of a back-to-the-land folkie type, who had a following with songs like Danny’s Song. Surely, that is what this book will cover.

You can see him here, backstage at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, talking to a young fan in attendance.

The History of Fleetwood Mac I haven’t been a huge follower of this band, but it has an incredibly long history, going back to about 1967, more than half a century ago. But back in those days, Fleetwood Mac were also caught up in the folk movement, and played with mostly acoustic instruments.

They later evolved into blues rock by the ’70s, and stayed that way for a while, and undergoing many personnel changes until their classic lineup in 1975, after which albums like Fleetwood Mac and Rumors were released. It is made clear that by then, they had long since done away with the mandolin, cello, flute and harpsichord as shown in this book cover.

Ayn Rand Institute on the Dole

Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand

Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum, or Ayn Rand, as you may or may not know, is an atheist responsible for extolling her invented philosophy called “objectivism”, as detailed in her doorstopper work of fiction called Atlas Shrugged. Her nonfiction works included titles such as “The Virtue of Selfishness” and “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal”. While objectivism never worked as a serious branch of philosophy, her philosophy of “what’s good for ‘me’ is good for mankind” resonated with those invested in capitalism. In recent decades many in American government saw it as a way of promoting themselves to say that they had read Ayn Rand. By far the most notable American politician who claims to have read any of her works is American congressman Paul Ryan, who claims it formed the basis of his entire political career, according to a speech he made to the Atlas Institute in 2005, the 100th anniversary of Ayn’s birth. Senator Rand Paul, contrary to rumors, wasn’t named after Ayn’s pen surname (his full name is actually Randal Paul, with one “l”), but is also another big fan of the late Ms. Rand since his teen years. Both elected officials extoll “free markets” and decry “socialism” in all of its forms, in the spirit of Ayn Rand. Another prominent supporter of Ayn Rand was Alan Greenspan, who chaired the Federal reserve between 1987 and 2006. None of these people have any significant background in philosophy.

Ayn was in the twilight years of her life ironically making use of medicare and social security after suffering from medical problems related to her smoking habit. She died in 1982 at age 77.

A week ago, Reuters reported that the Ayn Rand Institute was among those who applied for the American government’s Paycheck Protection Program, which under the current pandemic, gives it access to up to 1 million dollars of government money. It is indeed ironic that an institute dedicated to “ending the welfare state” would find it within their philosophy to actually embrace the welfare state as they do here. Oh, and they embrace this wholeheartedly, making it a “matter of moral principle”. The argument is roughly: because we pay taxes, we therefore must all apply for any handouts we can get our hands on as a form of restitution for the theft of taxation. On the other hand, those who support the welfare state have no right to claim such access to handouts, since they are in support of theft (taxation), and therefore lack any moral justification to be so compensated. This means that, according to the website, the fault lies in the contradictions of the welfare state, and not in the Ayn Rand institute, who merely claim what was taken from them.

It is very convenient that members of the Ayn Rand Institute do not feel the need for living up to their own convictions. The institute is not out to make a profit; indeed it is a right-wing think tank that receives private donations, and as such it is registered in Irvine, California as a nonprofit organization (under tax code 501(c)(3)), thus avoiding taxation altogether. It has no real moral claim to restitution of any such government thievery, since nothing was ever taken from them. Nope. They’re just sponging off the government.

My first look at the Caledon Trail: a gallery

Mile zero ot the Caledon Trail is a good ways away from where I live, and not all of it is highway driving, since it is far away from the 401, the 403, the 407, and any of the “400 series” expressways. Most of the drive was through Winston Churchhill Boulevard, which gradually narrows from 6 lanes to 2 lanes as you approach Terra Cotta, where the Mile Zero marker is located. You then need to enter a dirt road with an initial sharp incline called Brick Lane and travel it to the end to see the trail.

The distance from home to the trail is further away (41 km) than the trail itself, so I drove. Since I left around 11 AM or so, it was already getting hot, and so I didn’t carry the bike in the van. Today was about seeing how easy or difficult it was to get to the Mile Zero marker, and then looking around. There were no issues, except right around Mile Zero, King St. breaks up Winston Churchhill into two sections, and you had to find the northern section to get to Brick Lane. Not that hard with a map, which I had.

The small bit of looking around I did was extremely helpful in planning my ride, when I decide to embark. It will likely be useful to divide the route into 3 sections of about 10 km each, which makes a ballpark cycling distance twice that, due to the return journey. The trail goes across main streets and towns, so it is possible to stop where I last turned back the previous day and do a new journey for another 10 or so kilometers.

More of my thoughts are below. To see the illustrations in “gallery mode”, click on a graphic, and it will behave as a slideshow. However, you lose the captions.

Crappy Album Covers #335: Don’t let go the coattails

Cody Matherson "Can I Borrow a Feelin'?"Anyone who has read this blog from as far back as 10 years ago may have recalled a fella named Cody Matherson, who made an album called “Can I Borrow a Feelin’?” If you did see it, I guess it was hard to unsee. And my apologies for re-traumatizing you with this illustration. But I am bringing this up for a reason, since I have noticed that a few years later, as Cody had gotten older, his appearance naturally changed and now he has, uh, matured both musically and physically, with his more recent offering. All the while, his fame appears to have spread far and wide.

Cody MathersonI discovered this album while picking through some fresh Crappy Album Covers for future blogs. And look! A sequel! “Can I Borrow Another Feelin’?” rides on the tidal wave of success of his previous album, and takes things “that one step too far”. Also, Cody doesn’t seem to look that much worse for wear, don’t you think?

Stories abound about Cody’s past, on the internet. But many of them are well-written, but obviously tall tales, such as his place of birth in Pflugerville, Texas in 1958, followed  by a number of other plausible details, then saying that he was written up in Rolling Stone magazine as a country-rock legend with musical prowess comparable to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Elvis and Barry Manilow. That, and famous quotes purportedly about Cody from Bob Dylan. This is all nice, but there is not much proof of his actual music existing. The only evidence of Cody’s musicianship that appear to be left to 21st century civilization are these two album covers, which turn up all over the place. The Joyce album , referred to by some as the Mona Lisa of crappy album covers, is real. I have heard a snippet of her brand of gospel music. I have also heard music from many other CAC makers, some good, some not so much. But as Donald Rumsfeld liked to say about their ability to turn up evidence of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear arms cache, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Just because we can’t find any music from Cody Matherson, doesn’t mean that it’s not out there. We can say that for the Rolling Stone article, too.

KirkVanHouten Can I Borrow a FeelingThis franchise has apparently made it into the canon of popular culture. So much so, that a Simpson’s episode was devoted to a situation where Homer’s friend, Kirk Van Houten, was trying to get his former wife back by devoting a recording of songs like these and launching his career. There was merchandise such as cassette recordings you could have bought from the Simpson’s website for a while. Now, these are trading on websites such as E-Bay. You can now even get Kirk Van Houten T-shirts and coffee mugs, and patches for your jean jacket.

the-decline-can-i-borrow-a-feelingAs recently as 2014, Australian skate punk group The Decline announced a tour in promotion of an EP they recorded entitled “Can I Borrow a Feeling?”, obviously riding on the coattails of Cody Matheson and Kirk Van Houten, neither of whom were available for comment.

Two bullet point pieces on Trump

Sorry, but there will be a lack of attribution. This is not my own, but is lightly edited:

1. Trump description
  • The “billionaire” who hides his tax returns.
  • The “genius” who hides his college grades.
  • The “businessman” who bankrupted 3 casinos and lost over $1B in 10 years.
  • The “playboy” who pays for sex.
  • The “Christian” who doesn’t go to church.
  • The “philanthropist” who defrauds charity.
  • The “patriot” who dodged the draft. And attacks dead Veterans and their widows.
  • The “innocent man” who refuses to testify.
2. Trump Dictionary
  • Many People have told me = Voices in my head and fictional people have said to me
  • A lot of people don’t know = I just learned something most people already knew
  • Nobody knew = Everyone knew except me
  • Believe me = I just lied
  • In Fact = I’m about to lie
  • He’s a great guy = He is either a foreign dictator or a Klansman
  • MAGA = Making my pockets fatter off the American tax payers
  • Huge = Unimportant to most people except Trump
  • Loser = someone who makes me feel inferior due to their talent or accomplishments, often a government employee guilty of doing their job
  • Policy Briefing = Watching Fox and Friends
  • Liar = Someone telling the truth about me
  • Fake News = News which Trump finds inconvenient
  • Deep state = Gov’t people with experience whom I disagree with

The North End of the Etobicoke Trail

I can now say that I have travelled nearly the whole trail in halves: The southern half beginning at Markland Wood Golf Course to Turner Fenton; and the northern half starting from Turner Fenton and going to the 410 and Kennedy in Caledon.

Unlike last week’s trek, I had my cycling shoes this time. I don’t bring them to every outing, since I sometimes lose balance in them and fall. This happens a lot less since I loosened the clips, but I I’d fall off the bike about 3 weeks ago, not being able to plant both feet on the ground as I was stopping. I give myself a break and use sneakers for some outings, but for this journey I was in my cleats, and had no issues.

The middle part of the journey was the worst, going through downtown Brampton in the Queen/Main area. On my first attempt at this trail, I tended to get lost around this area, and even ended up traveling in circles. I then attempted to take the opposite direction on the trail, and ended up travelling in a different circle from the one before. Instead of encountering the same park bench, I was passing by Cardinal Leger Secondary School more than once. I called it a day, and before I drove home, I went to a drug store to find a copy of a map of Brampton. When I got home, I traced the north end of the trail through Brampton.

I know in this age of internet and cell phones, I could have used my 4G access, but actually I had used up my bandwidth, and my provider cut off the internet at 500MB instead of allowing it to go into overage. I have had this same service for a few years, and I couldn’t remember if I asked Koodoo to set it up that way, but I kept it like that and took it as a blessing in disguise, thinking that it won’t hurt to rely on a paper map.

So, I tried again the next day. This time, with the map’s help, I made it through the entire trail and crossed Mayfield Road in under 2 hours. The entire return trip was done in about 3 hours and 30 minutes, the return journey being easier.

The downtown Brampton piece of the journey involved discovering a forested area, with a sharp downhill and uphill, with a turn in between. The presence of pedestrians using the trail made me decide that I had to walk the bike.

The nicest parts of the journey were nearest to Mayfield Road. While parts of the road were packed gravel, it passed through some of the nicest forested areas I had seen in Peel Region outside of Erindale Park. I made two brief stops to stretch, drink water, and reapply suntan lotion.

Bob Dylan’s only #1 Billboard hit, and Armageddon

In my series on Crappy Album Covers, Bob Dylan has appeared at least twice. I had also written about his singing skills or lack thereof at least once before. Needless to say, I have established my not-very-high opinion of Dylan’s singing and album covers on this blog.

However, I had always complimented him on his songwriting and poetry skill. His skill was good enough to win him the Nobel Prize for literature in 2017. However, the songs Dylan wrote were always best sung by other people.

Among the most frequent cover artists were Joan Baez; Judy Collins; The Band; The Byrds; Glen Campbell; Johnny Cash; Cher; Eric Clapton; Joe Cocker; Fairport Convention; Bryan Ferry; Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs; The Grateful Dead; George Harrisson; Jimi Hendrix; The Hollies; Peter, Paul and Mary; Tom Petty (with and without The Heartbreakers); Elvis Presley; Pete Seeger; Yes; Steve Howe; and Neil Young.

More modern artists cover him less frequently. They include: XTC; The White Stripes; The Red Hot Chili Peppers; Sinead O’Connor; My Morning Jacket; Jason Mraz; Ministry; Maroon 5; Dave Matthews Band; Diana Krall; Alicia Keys; Kesha; Norah Jones; Indigo Girls; Robyn Hitchcock (with and without The Egyptians); Green Day; Dream Syndicate; Miley Cyrus; Nick Cave and The Badseeds; and The Black Crowes.

And what I didn’t know until earlier today, is that at age 79, Dylan’s hit song, “Murder Most Foul”, has reached #1 on the Billboard chart for “US Digital Song Sales”, which is the first time he had a #1 hit singing in his own voice on any of the Billboard charts. This song will be part of his up-coming album “Rough and Rowdy Ways”, to be released at the end of next week.

The 17-minute hit beats Don Maclean’s “American Pie” by 7 minutes, and The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” by 10 minutes.

“Murder Most Foul” is a montage of artist titles, singer names, and cultural references that keep going back to the Kennedy assassination. At first listen, it is difficult to understand why all of the name-dropping and song title mentions are there. It feels kind of chaotic, and you feel like there is no structure. It requires another listen. And when you listen again, try not to make sense of anything. Then the song works perfectly, in that it begins to make its own sense. It objectively refers to Kennedy, and a multitude of artists and songs contemporary to the early sixties, with the odd mention of artists from later and earlier decades. Like a painting, you can’t examine the painting by examining each brushstroke. You need to listen to this song by allowing your mind to “step back” so to speak, and admire the song as a whole piece as you would a painting.

To say it is a sad song is an understatement. It seems more like a funeral march. It is a eulogy to a dying culture, and the end of an era. It reveals to us all what we already know: it’s not the sixties anymore. American culture is wounded, and the prospects appear grim.

Cycling the Etobicoke Trail

The Etobicoke Creek Trail east of Dixie and Midway.

The original idea was to take the Etobicoke Trail from Glenforest Secondary School to Turner Fenton Secondary School. It didn’t quite turn out that way, since when I attempted the trail two days ago, I only made it as far as the 401, where the trail going underneath the 401 was under repairs until November, and was blocked by a fence. A fellow rider passing by led me to a knocked-down section of the fence barrier, leading to a part of the trail which was muddy, and possibly not the kind of trail for my bike, which had smooth tires. But I followed him nevertheless, and made it back to the paved trail on the other side. That side quickly led to west end of the Pearson Airport property, at the end of the runways. My temporary companion had disappeared by then, and I was on the part of the trail that ended up going alongside the much written about Convair Drive. On the other side of the fence of Convair was another paved road, likely South Service Road.

The south part of the Etobicoke Creek Trail, showing my many detours along Derry, Tomken, Convair, Renforth, Eglinton and Matheson, the latter to avoid the roadblock of the part of the trail running underneath the 401 on the return trip.

Being at the airport answered a small question in the back of my mind. I had seen South Service Road on the maps. Why was it called “South” when it was clearly running on the north side of the 401? Now that I see that it is on the airport side of the fence, I see it means that it runs on the south side of the airport.

Trail sign at Columbus and Derry roads. I hung a left instead of following the arrows.

I didn’t reach Turner Fenton, having taken the trail at Derry Road to Tomken. I almost ended up there, but didn’t travel under the 410/407 basket weave as I had hoped. Turning back, I retraced my steps and went back home via Convair Drive, exiting the trail. From there, I would take a sidewalk route going south on Renforth down to Eglinton. There was a very nice trail there, which made it possible to get back to Matheson Boulevard as I had intended, and re-enter the Etobicoke Trail via Sismet Road.

Weird structure observed at Pearson Airport, seen from Convair Drive.

My cycling odometer seemed to click over 78 km or so with the return trip, but a tracing of my route at walkandrollpeel.ca shows about half that (actually around 38 km, see illustration above), which when calculating average speed, makes more sense.

Self-defeating behaviour during the Covid-19 pandemic

A protestor with no understanding of communism, thinks that it is its opposite, and winds up supporting communism by being against that which separates us from being communal.
  • According to a Google search, a Madison media organ will say that a protest against social distancing back on April 25th will be reported by TV stations if their channels are a multiple of 9. Channels 9, 18, and 27 in Madison have reported that the protests where people had been refused a permit to hold the rally in the first place, and violated social distancing orders have defeated their own object by inadvertently shutting down businesses that would normally be open.
  • There has been a spike in serious illnesses and deaths from people ingesting household cleaners, following a suggestion made by Dr. Donald Trump about a week ago. Emergency hotlines from all over the country are receiving calls asking about ingesting household disinfectants.
  • For their Covid-19 medical stats, some countries are counting as “no longer contagious”, dead people.
  • Among the protestors in Michigan, was a woman who told a reporter that there was nowhere where she could get her hair colored. Another told a reporter that it was now difficult to obtain lawn fertilizer or grass seed, body piercings or tattoo services.
  • Florida governor Ron DeSantis has classified live professional wrestling as an essential service.
  • Missouri, a state which begain the re-opening process on May 3, is suing China for economic losses and suffering.
  • Donald Trump, after bragging about brokering a deal with OPEC, saw the oil prices in the United States become negative (-38 dollars a barrel) by April 20. Oil producers were paying buyers to take oil they couldn’t store.
  • Arkansas, whose state had not issued stay-at-home orders except for schools, has now denied visas to Chinese students who wish to study the sciences.
  • Maybe lawyer and former drug company lobbyist Alex Azar, the head of the U. S. Health and Human Services Department, could have done better than to pick Brian Harrisson, a labradoodle breeder, as head of the Coronavirus Task Force (a position later replaced by Vice President Mike Pence, whose background was as a lawyer and former Congressman). Remember to keep away people with science backgrounds at all times.
  • Florida corrections ordered inmates to manufacture face masks without wearing facemasks themselves, or any other protection, risking contamination to the facemasks they were making for the wardens and guards in the correctional facility.

Crappy Album Covers 334: Classic Crock Revisited

Tennessee Ernie Ford (1919-1991) had a rare million seller with the folk song “16 Tons”. It is itself a 1955 cover version of a song written by Merle Travis (1917-1983) and released in 1947.

Not only is it Tennessee Errnie Ford’s signature tune, Ford sung it so definitively, that it is the only singer one readily identifies with the song. By today, there are easily over 100 cover versions of this song, done by artists as diverse as Johnny Cash, Stevie Wonder, The Dandy Warhols, and Rage Against The Machine.

A year later, Gene Vincent had a smash hit that caused great controversy. And after some kind of a public inquiry, it was concluded that no one could understand the lyrics. There was no dispute that it was a fun tune, and Be-Bop-A-Lula was listed as the 103rd of the 500 top songs of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine in 2004.

Rumor has it that “Shredding for Satan” was an album released in 1957 (same year as Be-Bop-A-Lula). If that is true it seemed to pass without all of the bothersome controversy that was brought to Gene Vincent.

If Yvette Oldemeyer existed at all, it was as a model posing with an electric guitar and a cute yellow amplifier on the cover of a 1957 edition of Popular Electronics, showing her preference for “throbbing vibrato”.

The Legacy of Bonnie Burstow (1945-2020)

Bonnie Burstow

Dr. Bonnie Burstow (Ph. D.) was a professor of education at OISE at the Unviersity of Toronto, who recently died of kidney failure at 75 as of 4 January, 2020.

I have been at OISE a few times, but I have never met Dr. Burstow, but her radical feminist approach to anti-psychistry as part of a patriarchical system I am sure helped many, but I wonder if feminist issues were the entire problem with psychiatry. I have always questioned its very scientific basis, a point made early on by the late Thomas Szasz (1920-2012). The only problem with Szasz was that he founded CCHR, which is aligned with the Church of Scientology. It had been the reason I lost interest in the anti-psychiatry movement over the past 30 or so years. Both sides seemed to be locked in a power struggle over who controls an individual’s mind, and both sides are politically tainted in the most unhelpful of ways.

Thomas Szasz

Szasz’s main criticisms, the most basic of which is that “mental illness” occurs in “the mind”, is a myth because “the mind” is an abstraction. He has now been upstaged by findings in “biological psychiatry”, and many are now coining the phrase “psychiatric illness”, which personally I find unhelpful in that “psychiatric” sounds like just another abstraction (maybe a more precise one?). A psychiatric illness diagnosis is still a death sentence to most people’s careers (unless it is being a standup comic or something), making it difficult to understand on what planet is what psychiatrists do considered “helpful” when it involves incarceration?

Szasz wrote a journal article (The Psychiatrist) a year before his death in 2011, which criticized the professional and legal support for modern psychiatry as raising the idea of mental illess from the level of a “myth” to the level of a “lying fact”. In response, Dr. Edward Shorter (Ph. D.) wrote in the same journal that there have been many advances along with the emergence of “biological psychiatry” which has made much of psychiatry more rigorous and scientific, although he admits that the DSM is a largely politicized document, and agrees with Szasz there.

Edward Shorter

Burstow also attacked the scientific basis of psychiatry. She herself did not have any counselling credentials academically, but acted as counsellor and had maintained that psychiatry is a patriarchal structure. I am of the thinking that the “patriarchal” structure is probably due to the lack of science, and that if you addressed the lack of science then the rest of the injustices would be resolved by and large by default. So, unless you are among those that support the notion of “feminist science” and “patriarchal science”, I am not sure what basis in reality this has. Even then, the idea that there are multiple “sciences” in the same field which depend on the views of the scientist is absurd on the face of it. The entire point of science is that the findings of an investigation should not depend on the scientist. That’s why we require reproducibility in scientific investigations. I have read Burstow, but not enough of her to know for sure if that was her take on science generally. From what I did read, I saw nothing I could construe as being part of this philosophy.

It is heartening to hear that psychiatry has come around to insisting on an evidence-based, biological approach. I also like the humanistic ideal of “freedom from labels” that appeal to those in the anti-psychiatry movement, of which Burstow was vocal. The problem is, you can’t have a science (or anything else of intellectual import) without labels. Whatever the “thing” is I need to talk about, needs to have a name, otherwise, the reader will be given a verbal diarrhea of mumbo-jumbo, making discussion difficult. So, in reality, labelling humans is difficult, but if we need to talk about someone who thinks the world is out to get them, it clarifies discussion if we give the thought obsession a name, and are nuanced enough in our discussion that we are labelling what humans do and not labelling humans themselves.